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Ideal & Sublime: Exhibition by J. Muscat and L. Agius   Print  E-mail 
Submitted by Artissa Administrator  

by E.V. Borg

Portrait of J MUSCAT (b.1934)

Leslie Agius 2009 003

Joseph Muscat (1934- ) and Leslie Agius (1941- ) have many things in common. They were born in Mosta and lived in the old core. They admire Cezanne and studied art, attended our University together (1964-68), were teachers, became heads of school, part-time lecturers at our University, own a small private art collection and for the sake of friendship have collaborated to organize an art exhibition in Mosta at ‘ir-Razzett tal-Markiz Mallia Tabone’ (14 -27 November, 2009).

The art of Joseph Muscat is formal, geometric, linear, with at times a hard steel edge to his shapes and forms. His mentor is undoubtedly Cezanne whom he has studied intensely. He is inspired by the geometric formality of a Piero della Francesca and his modern disciple Balthus. He studied drawing under Vincent Apap and painting under Emvin Cremona. Joseph still cherishes a portrait he drew Chadwick Lakes by J Muscatat the Malta School of Art, corrected and finished by Emvin Cremona and a charcoal drawing finished by Vincent Apap.

There is hardly any emotion in his work. He sublimates his feelings and looks at life with calculated poise probably cognizant of Plato’s dictum that lathes and rules are not beautiful relatively but absolutely so. The clinical and meticulous treatment in his work renders them serene, tranquil, compact and unified.

His most forceful and ‘emotional’ work is the ‘Violin Player’ (2009) a painting that has an affinity with the painting of Balthus in its dynamic tension and steel-like quality. The strong, solid and volumetric masses in the painting melt or soften only with the tragic look in the player’s eyes that the artist depicts with compassion, pathos and comprehension. The rigidity or tension in her fingers on the violin and bow reveal her intense involvement and absorption in the piece played and perhaps also that of the artist.

Il-Maqluba by L AgiusJoseph Muscat enjoys painting landscape like his mentor Cezanne. Perhaps his best works are ‘Chadwick Lakes’ (2009) and ‘Dingli Cliffs’ (2009). These rich jewels are constructed of large masses in register that remind me of the manner of George Fenech of Mellieha. The influence of Cezanne and George Fenech are manifest in the violet shade, the chromatic vibrance of colours and the solid construction of the compositions. Two related works depicting San Anton Gardens in Attard remind me of the fantastic vision of Henri Rousseau (le douanier) especially that with the pond with clumps of reeds and a fountain with a neo-classic statue (2008). The latter is highly agitated while the ‘path with trees’ (2007) has fantastic movement of shadow and light.

Joseph’s mathematical and geometric accuracy especially of cubic solids surface in his paintings of churches: St. Mary parish church (in different light, from different angles 2008/2009) and St. Anne chapel (2008) all in Attard and a less familiar view of Mosta church (2009) seen from the back. His ‘Philodendron Flower’ (2009) might be the envy of any botanist. ‘Flower in Pot’ (1957) is so exquisite, DINGLI CLIFFS by J MUSCATwhile his nudes are a reflection of his contemplative mood. That, after Pascal Renoux (2008) is dynamic and vigorous with free handling of brush and gorgeous folds in blue.

The mathematically perfect constructions, his meticulous eye to solid forms and volumetric spaces do not detract from his lyrical and poetic vision. Joseph is a rare bird, quiet, unassuming, calm and gentle.

Leslie Agius employs a consummate strategy as the basis of structure, equilibrium and a balanced composition in his works. He is a contemplative dreamer and finds no joy or pleasure in chance, risk or accident. Even when he reveals a rare moment of improvisation, spontaneity or imaginative license the notion of order, meticulous calculation and a long period of maturation are dominant and rampant. His art is the result of patient care and fermentation as his blend of house wine from the grape of ‘is-Santi Mgarr’. In the making both painting and wine attain a sense of ritual and maturation.

Woman with violin by J MuscatLeslie has fallen under Cezanne’s spell. His mentor and master, Karmenu Mangion has influenced the artist immeasurably and George Borg gave him a basis of design. His hard edge technique, cubic forms, and geometric outlines are reminiscent of Harry Alden. Leslie admires George Fenech and Tony Sciberras and it seems he has influenced in turn Rossella Dalmas with his gaseous mists that hang over his slumbering villages inhabited by the lotus-eaters.

‘The Far End of the Village’ (2001) is quite representative and perhaps one of his most successful pieces. It is a skyline of evocative charm, of great beauty that casts a spell of great magic. It looks more like a Pythagorean Theorem than an enclave for man. Perhaps while painting the work his imagination wandered to his childhood haunt in Dingli Street, Mosta facing Ta’ Qali airstrip where in June he could smell the scent of hay and clover.

‘Still Life’ (1963) is undoubtedly Leslie’s best work. It represents the artist’s lifelong fascination with the mythical Karmenu Mangion. Lovingly, Leslie pays homage to his loving master and benefactor. The solidity of the objects, the steel sharp-edged cloth and the formidable composition has the strength of a Cezanne so much emulated by Mangion himself. The chromatic values are undoubtedly those in Mangion’s palette. Leslie’s interpretation is excellent and superb. Thus Cezanne forms a link between Mangion and Agius.

Still Life with Red Bottle L AgiusLeslie has experimented in various media and has linocut prints to his credit together with works in pastel and watercolour. He also loves ceramics. He has painted still life, flowers, moody skies, quaint villages and religious subjects. His ‘Crucifixion’ (1979) reminiscent of Gauguin’s ‘Yellow Christ’ is such a tragic and poignant work.

‘Skyline’ (1989) in watercolour is a panoramic impression of ‘Bahar ic-Caghaq’. It is a bird’s eye view of the enclave. The spectator gets the impression of a hovering bird of prey. Leslie utters William Cowper’s verse: ‘I am monarch of all I survey’ savouring the attendant advantages of solititude but the deprivations of loneliness in ‘splendid isolation’ Must he finish the journey alone? There is no creature in sight. In a north-easterly storm (Grigalata, 1989 - watercolour), the vast sky and windy stretch of land buffeted by the sea exposes more explicitly the loneliness of man struggling against adversity. These romantic works have an affinity with Lear and his period.

Joseph Muscat and Leslie Agius consider themselves as serious Sunday painters. Both gave priority to education and their family takes precedence. They studied art and their work has an academic basis but their main field of study was English and History respectively. While Joseph specialized in technical drawing and woodwork graduating a City and Guilds Teacher of Handicraft that influenced his technique and vision, Leslie indulges in photography in his spare time. Their work never lacks a streak of lyricism and music.

‘We are all disappointed (disillusioned); we are all deprived and therefore we are all in some sense idealists. The need to link the real and ideal is a perpetual tension, never resolved as long as life persists but always productive of new attempted solutions’. (Fava, George, Catalogue Essay In ‘Recent Works’ by Carmel Bonello – Museum of Fine Arts, June 2003). This quotation is food for thought as both Joseph Muscat and Leslie Agius try hard to link the real with the ideal. Both achieve a sublime ideal in a formal mathematical and geometric exercise.


 
 
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